STORY: Opening Statements HRC 52
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 27 February 2023 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
UN Secretary-General António Guterres denounced on Monday at the opening of nearly six weeks of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva setbacks in human rights around the world.
“The Universal Declaration (of Human Rights) is under assault from all sides”, he said. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most massive violations of human rights we are living today. It has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement. Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused many casualties and terrible suffering.”
Mr. Guterres pointed out dozens of cases of conflict-related sexual violence against men, women and girls, while serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law against prisoners of war have been documented in Ukraine by the UN human rights office.
Mr. Guterres called for a revitalized Universal Declaration to face today’s new challenges. “This is a moment to stand on the right side of history”, the UN Secretary-General said. “A moment to stand up for the human rights of everyone, everywhere. We must revitalize the Universal Declaration and ensure its full implementation to face the new challenges of today and tomorrow.”
Although people’s average lifespan in the last 100 years ago has increased from 32 years to more than 70, and seven out of every 10 people were illiterate, now it’s less than two in 10, the UN chief warned that numerous 21st century challenges confront us.
“Extreme poverty and hunger are rising for the first time in decades”, Mr. Guterres said. “Nearly half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, live in climate hotspots. These vast areas are fast becoming human rights disaster zones where floods, droughts and storms mean people are 15 times more likely to die of climate impacts. A record 100 million people have been forced to flee by violence, conflict and human rights violations.“
Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th session of the General Assembly, who also addressed the Council, said that whilst there were reasons to celebrate, these were clearly superseded by the reality of a world in a state of disarray, with unprecedented, cascading, and interlocking crises.
The world has far from recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 70 countries in debt distress, women and girls in systematically sidelined in many countries, and the world not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The Security Council, like the General Assembly, was at a crossroads.
“Today, I want to advocate for a transformation of how we do things”, Mr. Kőrösi said. “I am calling for a fundamental shift in how we manage interlocking crises. Now, nowhere is that more apparent than in tackling climate change.”
Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who addressed the Council for the first time since taking office last December, said over the past 75 years, there had been profound gains and many achievements. However, the oppression of the past could return, in various disguises, including wars of aggression, as witnessed in Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“If there was ever a moment to revitalize the hope of human rights for every person, it is now”, Mr. Türk said. “Yet, much of the progress made over decades is being reined back and even reversed in some parts – most conspicuously for women and girls, the civic space and the freedoms enjoyed at times of peace and through sustainable development, and the list is long.“
In July this year, Mr. Guterres and the UN High Commissioner will launch a new Agenda for Protection. The important initiative will seek to strengthen support from across the United Nations system to Member States to protect people and their rights, in times of peace and conflict.
“It is against this backdrop that we have embarked this year on the Human Rights 75 Initiative, first and foremost, to rebuild trust,” said Mr. Türk. “Trust between States that they will act in line with international law and the agreements which they themselves have drafted, and jointly work to advance the common good.”
More than 100 Heads of State and ministers are taking part in the 52nd UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva which started today. On the agenda: an extensive array of human rights issues- including discrimination, the freedom of religion, right to housing – as well as country situations like those in Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Nicaragua and South Sudan.
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council is made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide. It does not have legally binding powers but its debates often bring heightened scrutiny to issues and it can initiate investigations that provide evidence to national and international courts.